Uneven Start for Sochi Ratings, but NBC Is Feeling Good

NBC Starts Selling Inventory Originally Held Back for Make-Goods

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NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi is doing well enough in the ratings that the network has begun selling ad inventory that it had been holding back in case it needed to make up for shortfalls, according to NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus.

Despite midday spoilers and tape-delayed coverage in prime-time, NBC executives are happy with the way their live streaming and on-air programming is going so far, they said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

Some of the ad time that had been held back is now being sold at a premium by NBC's ad sales teams, the executive said. Other inventory is going toward promoting network programming, including "The Tonight Show" with new host Jimmy Fallon starting Feb. 17.

NBC is making much more of the games available live via the internet than it has in past games, with a 54% surge in digital viewing over its prior winter games in Vancouver. On Tuesday, 600,000 people streamed the men's halfpipe to watch Shaun White as gave up his spot on the medals podium.

Viewers who watch on digital devices were proving more likely to also watch on TV, according to Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC Universal, and were not discouraged from watching at night even if they already knew the results.

Some viral videos have emerged from the games so far, Mr. Wurtzel added. Footage of Russian speed skater Olga Graf unzipping her uniform after securing a medal -- forgetting she wasn't wearing anything underneath -- currently has 2.5 million views, he said.

But there are still plenty of viewers on social media lamenting TV tape-delays and spoilers, reprising a popular complaint from previous games.

And prime-time ratings have been uneven, with audiences for the tape-delayed Opening Ceremony and the first few nights of coverage lagging the ratings for Vancouver in 2010. But Tuesday night saw a boost, with 23.7 million people tuning in, compared with 20.5 million viewers on the same night in Vancouver.

NBC has also been criticized for editing International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach's message of tolerance during the Opening Ceremony. On the call with reporters, Mr. Lazarus said it was purely an issue of time constraints.

The Olympics have been a big boost for cable's NBC Sports Network, where viewership is up more than 80% compared with the 2012 London Games.

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